Next week, in a 'country' that doesn't quite exist, Szilárd Magyari will lead the line for his national team – a national team of sorts – at the age of just 21.
Artsakh hosts the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019 this summer, a tournament for de facto nations, breakaway states and other groups of people who can't get into FIFA. Magyari will head up the attack for a Székely Land team who come into the tournament among the favourites, after reaching the semi-finals of the World Football Cup last summer.
Every team who will meet in Artsakh has defied the odds to get there, whether it’s been a long attempt to gain recognition or even going through violent wars. Reigning champions Padania are there, from Italy. So too are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, strong teams from the Caucasus. Sapmi, representing the scattered Sami people in the far north.
They’ve all got stories to tell, and Magyari is no exception.
Magyari grew up in the small town of Miercurea Ciuc, in a little-known area of Romania called Székely Land. Born, as he says, ‘in a place with two names’. He watched Ronaldinho as a child, just four years old when the Brazilian talisman lit up the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
The young (well, younger) Székely boy played on the streets with friends evening after evening – developing a love for the game that stayed in him. But Székely Land is an indigenous Hungarian enclave in Romania, with its own very distinct identity. Things are shaky.
When he got a little older, Magyari was scouted by Puskás Academy, a professional club in the north of Hungary. Aged just 12, he had to live hundreds of miles away from his parents in a new country; albeit one which had a number of cultural similarities and a language in common with his home town.
It ended up being too much, and homesickness ground him down until he couldn't perform to the level he wanted, and that he knew he could. He left, returned to Székely Land and came up through the ranks at FK Csíkszereda – that's FK Miercurea Ciuc in Romanian, the tiny club who only reached the third division in 2014.
The hometown hero playing as a powerful, skilful forward, Magyari is coming to Artsakh for the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019 having defied the odds to lead his club to their first ever promotion into the second tier of Romanian football where they'll play teams like Rapid București, 13-time Romanian Cup winners.
As he puts it: “We are writing our own story, in a tournament for outsiders. Ghost nations. Teams you won’t find on a map.
“In the game, we are proud and true fighters. I hear voices in the crowd. I smell the grass, I see faces in the balconies, and I remember why I play. For the golden sun, and the crescent moon. My family, my people. We play for more than a metal cup.”
Magyari is a champion coming into the CONIFA Euros, leading the line in a Székely Land team for whom he scored twice in the World Football Cup just 12 months previous. Five years ago, homesick and far from his family, he thought his football dream was over. He is now on the verge of becoming a Székely Land legend.
The tournament will run 1st-9th June, with some of the very best international teams playing outside of FIFA.